Indigenous leaders from around the world gathered at the United Nations New York City headquarters for the Twenty-First Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. The session, which ran April 25 through May 6, examined Indigenous Peoples’ autonomy in business practice and the human rights-centered due diligence required to uphold free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), among other topics.
During the session, Indigenous leaders from all seven regions of the world spoke distinct dialects that span geographical distances and date back generations. The thematic dialogue sessions allowed open communication between Indigenous Peoples, special rapporteurs, and other United Nations mechanisms. The Forum provided a space where communities could connect on shared experiences and address issues that have confronted Indigenous Peoples in recent history. Of note, this session allowed for virtual and in-person participation – a first since the cancellation of the Nineteenth session in 2020.
One commonality shared throughout the session: Indigenous Peoples globally are experiencing poor implementation of FPIC and their right to autonomy and self-governance, particularly by local businesses and transnational corporations in mining, logging, and oil and gas extraction. Indigenous leaders ask that businesses respect their existing, self-determined frameworks and protocols for FPIC, and to work with Indigenous communities directly when FPIC policy needs to be developed from the ground up.
While it can be useful for corporations to have an existing FPIC policy, a critical next step is for the companies to resource further development and implementation of their policy with full participation from affected Indigenous Peoples. FPIC considerations are dependent on individual Indigenous Nations, so updates to existing policies that recognize the need to understand whether FPIC protocols are already in place would embolden first steps for business leaders and investors, and help avoid legal, repercussions and reputational and material risk.
Though often reported in extractive industries, absence of FPIC is also occurring in the creative economy. Here too FPIC safeguards all the rights, intellectual property, and resources of Indigenous Peoples, which may be appropriated by commercial industry. Indigenous Peoples are calling for FPIC to have a wider understanding and integrality by more sectors.
Wherever projects intersect or impact Indigenous Peoples, companies must have rigorous due diligence to understand whose lands and resources they are working on, who holds legal title, or whether or not a treaty territory is contested. Robust FPIC policy helps navigate these complexities. For companies to lead in rights-centered business and resource development, they must fulfill their responsibility to protect human rights as articulated by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and devise FPIC policy as articulated in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
Of note, the Forum announced that a study is underway about FPIC implementation globally, with an interim report due in 2023 and the final report to deliver in 2025.
UNPFII Side Events Spotlighted Further Concerns and Indigenous Solutions
Throughout the Forum, side events covered a range of topics and provided an opportunity for Indigenous leaders to address and advocate for their communities' unique needs, as well as connect with other Indigenous Peoples on shared issues.
First Peoples Worldwide produced two side events at the session, including the webinar Indigenous Solutions toward the New Energy Economy: Transition Minerals, Mining, and FPIC, presented by a global coalition working to disrupt harmful extractive patterns in transition mineral development.
The coalition shared a pathway towards a more sustainable, just transition that protects both shareholder values and the rights of Indigenous peoples. Just prior to the session, members of the coalition wrote:
Indigenous Peoples are crucial agents of change for both climate mitigation and adaptation. While making up just over six percent of the global population, Indigenous managed lands are home to about 80 percent of the world’s remaining biodiversity. Indigenous Peoples manage or hold tenure over 25 percent of the world’s land surface and manage at least 24 percent of the total carbon stored above ground in the world’s tropical forests.
Rapid exponential expansion of the extraction of transition minerals will not only continue to pose a threat to Indigenous rights and territories, but also to lands that are crucially important for biodiversity and carbon sequestration. In order for the low carbon transition to be a truly just transition, Indigenous and other marginalized populations must be at the center of decision-making, particularly when proposed policies and projects may affect their rights and livelihoods.
The coalition recommended governments and companies involved in the new low carbon economy observe and implement rights enshrined in UNDRIP, including the right to FPIC.
Indigenous Peoples, historically, have met challenges to exercise their inherent right to self-determination and self-governance due to member states' failure to implement domestic legislation that safeguards these rights. Indigenous leaders therefore called for member states to implement the UNDRIP – specifically FPIC – into legislation.
During Women Leading Efforts to Uphold Indigenous Rights, Sovereignty, and Due Diligence with Financial Institutions and Corporations (see the video), hosted by Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network, staff attorney Summer Blaze Aubrey discussed the importance of FPIC.
“It’s important to have corporations ensure that FPIC and due diligence are upheld before any permitting is approved or engaged. Due diligence and FPIC are not boxes to be ticked; they are processes that need to be upheld continuously,” Blaze said.
Another concern raised was the immediate impacts communities face due to climate change. Indigenous communities from the Arctic to the Pacific are experiencing sea levels rising, devastating environmental changes, and threats of ongoing or new extractive developments in their traditional homelands, which they have responsibility to protect. In response, leaders emphasized the importance of traditional ecological knowledge as it is imperative for a sustainable future.
“A big part of the conversation [involving the environment] that isn’t being talked about is the responsibility part of the relationship between Indigenous peoples, their land, and future generations,” said June Lorenzo at the Franciscans International panel From Human Right, Due Diligence to Corporate Accountability–Ensuring the Protection of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Indigenous Peoples' ongoing practice of stewarding and protecting the land is an example traditional cological knowledge – a form of Indigenous management that has evolved over the centuries due to Indigenous cultures’ interconnectedness with nature. In the most recent annual thematic reports, David R. Boyd, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, recommended member states partner with Indigenous communities to obtain outcomes that will benefit the world. Partnering with tribes and respecting these traditional knowledge systems aid in protecting biodiversity, managing natural resources, and mitigating climate change.
These key issues identified throughout the Forum demonstrated striking similarities in the experiences of Indigenous Peoples worldwide. Due to domestic legislation not fully recognizing or supporting their human rights, Indigenous communities must seek international remedies. They are calling for restoration, a seat at the table to advocate, and recognition and respect of Indigenous rights, cultures, and lifeways. Indigenous leaders used the session and side events to amplify the call for governments to partner with communities and enhance participation in the decision-making process. There is a need and opportunity for a true partnership between member states and Indigenous communities, which is vital for a more inclusive and sustainable future for all.